I FIRST READ Up from Slavery ten years ago and was quickly surprised that it wasn’t required reading for every educator. In his autobiography, Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915) leaves us an equal bounty of moral wisdom and caution that all began with his dream to learn. Education is central to his story. He writes, There was never a time in my youth, no matter how dark and discouraging the days might be, when one resolve did not continually remain with me, and that was a determination to secure an education at any cost.
Once the slaves were freed after the Civil War, Washington, his mom, and siblings walked from Franklin County, Virginia, to the salt mines of Malden, West Virginia, to join his stepdad who had found work there. In a rough shanty town of whites and blacks, Washington envied the one young colored boy who read the evening papers aloud to his neighbors. Within a few weeks, Washington taught himself to read the alphabet. Within a few months, the colored people had found their first teacher, a Negro boy from Ohio who was a Civil War veteran. The families all agreed to board him as pay, and he taught children and adults alike. Washington relates, it was a whole race trying to go to school. The oldest Negroes were determined to read the Bible before they died, and every class, even Sunday school, was full of eager learners of every age. Unfortunately, Washington was not one of them.
Washington leaves us an equal bounty of moral wisdom and caution that all began with his dream to learn.
Washington’s stepdad found him to be more valuable as a worker and would not release him from his shifts. For months, while he worked at the head of the mine, Washington watched the Negro children walk to and from school. Eventually, he was able to secure lessons at night and eagerly devoured all he could. As time passed and he continued to press his stepfather, Washington finally won. He was allowed to work early, go to day school, work two more hours late afternoon before returning home—all at the age of eleven.
Washington worked as a salt packer, coal miner, and house servant, always attending school in the off hours. By 1872 at the age of sixteen, he traveled for a month to reach Hampton, Virginia, to attend a teacher school for African Americans. He served as the school janitor to support himself and graduated in three years with a certificate to teach in a trade school. The desire to learn was his work ethic. His work ethic was his desire to learn.
As Washington saw his dream to educate others come to fruition, he taught at a local school in Hampton then in a program for Native Americans before agreeing to train Negroes at an agricultural and mechanical school in Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute. He writes humbly and fluently of his years there in leadership, even as his national influence grew.
Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top.
Slave or free, shallow or deep, useless or useful. The distractions of life, the shiny things, are superficial. Yes, we agree. Our country, our people, this humanity, cannot grow until we see past them and move toward seeing each other in every skill or occupation or gifting as God designed us.
In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway portrays the character of Frederic Henry as a hedonist, a young man who has always been indulged but is trapped by the circumstances of war. He lives each day completing his work and pursuing his pleasures, likely aware that he could be killed at any moment. Henry is surrounded with other characters who act as he does, yet he searches for a greater meaning for his life, almost as if mining for that singular thing of value, hoping for better and fumbling through.
At the beginning of the novel, Hemingway likens Henry to his immoral peers, claiming like Rinaldi that they are “all fire and smoke and nothing inside.” Henry drinks wine with his companions and goes to the whorehouse with the captain. He drinks regularly with his roommate Rinaldi at any time of day and womanizes both at the officer’s whorehouse and in town with the new nurses. Being with women is just a game for him, and he claims that he “did not care what he was getting into.”
Henry is much like Aristotle’s incontinent man who pursues pleasure and does experience momentary regret, but not enough to elicit change. Henry even says to the priest, “we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.” Though meager, Henry’s sense of morality, or at the least, his awareness of moral choice, does exist.
A life without faith breeds hopelessness.
Once Henry is wounded though, Hemingway clarifies Henry’s budding perspective. Henry agrees with the priest that the “war disgust” is depressing and acknowledges that he does not know God, only fears Him. So though he admits that God exists and that man is in need, Henry chooses not to rely upon God, but rather upon himself.
Henry’s disposition toward Catherine also changes and matures. Once in the Milan hospital, Henry sees Catherine and knows that he is in love with her. At first in Book I, he had lied to placate her, and she was fully aware of and complicit in his game. But now, it’s as if he accidentally stumbles upon the greater meaning he unconsciously desires—love. Hemingway describes it as being “never lonely and never afraid when we were [are] together.” As Henry recuperates, Catherine continues to visit him, and they spend their nights together. In fact, they live almost exclusive of others and find meaning only in themselves and their relationship. Hemingway’s humanistic view relies solely on their choices, their mutual self-reliance.
What kind of love is this?
At the end of his escape, Henry reasons that all he wants to do in life is “eat and drink and sleep with Catherine.” This sentiment, this declaration of need, dominates Henry’s reasoning through the remaining chapters. Henry later states to Count Greffi that the thing he values most is “Someone I love,” and the Count replies that “that is a religious feeling.”
For Henry, being with Catherine is almost transcendental; it becomes his purpose for living, particularly because he deserted the Italian army not only for his survival, but also for hers and the baby’s. In spite of the fact that Henry becomes entirely dependent upon Catherine for his happiness, Hemingway ironically portrays Catherine as a shallow automaton who tirelessly asks Henry how she can please him or make him happy. Even in her final throes of labor she doesn’t want to make trouble. Her character shows no depth, yet Henry remains fervently devoted. Perhaps this obsession is one reason Henry’s path to happiness fails upon Catherine’s death and that of their son.
By Hemingway’s closing commentary, we now know that Frederic Henry is not only a pleasure-seeking humanist, but also a fatalist. Henry blames the world, or vaguely God, for his tragedy: “You never got away with anything.” He’s convinced that the immorality of his nights in Milan led to this negative end. Henry acknowledges what most would term “sin” and attributes these happenings as direct consequences, of reaping what was sown, without a hope of eternity: “You died. You did not know what it was about,” and Catherine too terms her imminent death “a dirty trick.”
This hopelessness is a just denouement for a character who lived a life without faith from the beginning, but the bigger question just might be what Hemingway was illustrating about the generation he lived in.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A LONELY ONION. My family had travelled to a theme park for spring break and was staying in a 1970 rental nearby. As I was preparing a pasta soup for dinner that first night, I was trying to chop an onion, well, hew an onion. Like most rentals, the kitchen utensils were cheap, meaning no one would ever take them home, thus my dilemma. First off, my knife wouldn't cut straight, so rather than cut through the onion, the knife was trying to make a circular slash. Yes, the knife. Not me. I had to start sawing. I had really wanted to dice an entire onion to start my soup but barely got a third sawn off. Now to dice. Needless to say, I had already spent fifteen minutes. Mind you, diced onion was just the first ingredient. I began to slice and individually cut each piece simply because that knife couldn't handle any more. Sometimes, just sometimes, when something simple in my life takes such effort, I ask the Lord what is going on.
My frustration came down to two things—a dull tool and a vital flavor.
These are things that hinder and help, and I began to consider them both. I asked the Lord if I had any dullness. Was there something He had given me that I had left alone? Was there anything that I was trying to do without Him? I didn’t want to be the one who hid her gold talent in the ground because I was afraid to try [Matthew 25].
For everyone who has something will be given more, so that he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has nothing, even what he does have will be taken away.
This was two years ago, and the first hints of writing were working in my heart even then. It was time to act, to do. Please, God, let me be faithful with my small amount.
And then there’s flavor. How could I make soup without flavor? became Does my life have flavor? Is it truly fruitful? In Matthew 13, Jesus told them another parable:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.
Mustard seeds and yeast. Flavors that grow.
God’s kingdom is just that, an entire kingdom. It has everything we have need of, every resource, every bit of His goodness for us. EVERYTHING. And the kingdom’s nature is to multiply. In Luke 17, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is within us. My prayer, my trust, is that Christ in me is multiplying and leading me in fruitfulness.
ARISTOTLE MAY HAVE GOT IT RIGHT. His emphasis on logic allowed him to view slaves and slavery, men and property owners, more rationally and compassionately than any other leader. This single topic of his time shows us a broad yet thorough picture of how true reasoning works and works fairly.
The concept and practice of enslaving other peoples has existed for centuries. In most ancient societies, slavery was not only custom but also necessity. Without this foundation of labor, the very structure of early societies could fail. In ancient Greece, Aristotle argued that slavery was a necessity, and it could be either just or unjust in practice; yet he also acknowledged that rational slaves could have souls (which begs another question of course) and deserved to be freemen. This seeming discrepancy points to his growing awareness of slavery’s issues and perhaps his perspective of man. In Politics, Aristotle himself questions whether a man can be destined to be a slave at birth: But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave . . . or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? (1.1254a). I appreciate this last question the most. Aristotle is not a man set in his ways nor is he firmly cemented in popular thought.
Aristotle felt that a man’s natural tendencies, even inherited ones, could lead him to be ruled, one who naturally was subjected. However, he did see an exception to this “natural” slavery; essentially, he qualified his own proposition because subjection might have been true for some, but not for an entire peoples and not for those who didn’t choose it. Aristotle conceded, for example, that it was unjust to enslave through war those who were not slaves by nature (1.1255a). He even termed the conquering of others for this purpose a “great evil” (7.1333b) because conquered peoples were being forced into something they weren’t born to. Aristotle did see the injustice of this single form of slavery.
Could it be true? If slaves had rational minds, then they would not be natural slaves and thus, using Aristotle’s reasoning, should not be enslaved.
Yet Aristotle also insisted that slavery was a natural, expected, and just foundation for a living society, for some should rule and others [should] be ruled (1.1254a). Typically, this same community required slaves, ministers of action, to function. Since they were his property, his possession, slaves were the means by which a master secured his livelihood (1.1253b). Aristotle saw slavery as just when the rule of master over slave was beneficial to both parties. He even allowed that they could share in friendship (1.1255b). Here, then, is where Aristotle concedes again that a slave might not truly be a slave by nature. They could have souls like rational men, unlike beasts of burden, since they were capable of friendship and considered part of the master (Ibid). The discrepancy lies in that they had to be rational in order to obey their masters. But if slaves had rational minds, then they would not be natural slaves and thus, using Aristotle’s reasoning, should not be enslaved.
Though Aristotle clearly advocated slavery in his time, he acknowledged his opponents’ arguments, too. If slavery was a violation of nature as others had proposed, then the distinction between slave and freeman exist[ed] by law only, and not by nature and was also declared unjust (1.1253b).
Since Aristotle allowed for such considerations, maybe by his generalization there couldn’t be one applicable definition for all slaves nor could there be an absolutist view of the issue. Aristotle could see that some slaves, a portion, were rational men, but he couldn’t apply that reasoning to all as a group. He could not allow for all slaves to be men, for that would destroy the infrastructure of his ideal community, the polis.
THIS TIME OF YEAR seems to both sadden me and lighten my heart. In the school year, I grow sad because I realize that my time of influence with my students is even shorter. Only months remain, not an entire school year. Yet, I'm grateful for a two week reprieve. Not seeing each other for a time does help us appreciate each other more. I get to be a full-time mom in person for more than a few hours at a time. I'm not thinking of work to-do lists, which parent to call, which student to encourage, which grade to update, which novel to reread, which meeting to attend, which article to prepare. In the natural, my focus shifts. I have a feeling many of us have these halfway points whether in the course of the natural calendar, the work world, or in the spiritual sense.
So what is it that makes a halfway point so poignant?
First, it's a blend of a sense of accomplishment and an understanding that more remains to be done. For me, I become thankful. Yes, I can see that more work lies ahead, but I can also see that some things have come to completion, and it's not because of me. My accomplishments are not my own because I am God's creation, and He is working through me. "But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works" (Psalm 73:28). In Hebrew, this word work means something that God has made or done. This is the same word used in the Genesis account, things that are created like ourselves. In the same way, as His created, we "bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (Psalm 103:22). We praise Him for for what He has created, that's us, and we praise Him for the works He creates through us. Psalm 90:17 reiterates this: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" Another way to read this within the context of the Hebrew meaning is "Let the beauty of God be upon us, and let the active work of our God be firm in us, so that our active work would be firm as well." It's really a simple idea. As I walk with God, the act of creation through my hands is like His act of creation. I am creating and working because I am in His image. And I am thankful that He chooses me to create and work.
Secondly, this halfway point is poignant because I have time to reflect. If I truly reflect—turn back and look again—I will hopefully see both my successes and failures and even moments that are neither. James 3: 13 asks "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." In the Greek, work here means work that completes an inner desire or purpose. I hope I'm honest with myself, especially in the meekness category. I admit that my reflection often turns negative, yet that doesn't imply something horrible or discouraging. These are moments to renew purpose especially if the fall semester didn't go as I had hoped or planned. I intentionally think of which students I have truly helped, where relationship is strong, and yet I now have the time to consider how to better help those I didn't connect as well with. I'm often disappointed with myself for things I've said or situations I didn't handle with wisdom, but I know I'm learning alongside my students, and God is with me. As I reflect, I once again grow thankful.
And that may just be my point. I'm only halfway. Things aren't finished. I'm unfinished, but I'm thankful. "I give thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart . . . On the day I called, you answered me, my strength of soul you increased . . . for the Lord will fufill his purpose for me. Do not forsake the work of your hands" (Psalm 138:1,3,8).
originally posted December 2016
1656. THREE WIVES, BLINDNESS, PRISON, AND AN EPIC.
Before Milton went completely blind, he married his second wife Katherine Woodcock, the love of his life. She died, also in childbirth, less than fifteen months later, and her daughter lived only a month. Milton still had three school-age daughters to care for, yet he spent his time writing for Cromwell and for himself. By 1658, however, Cromwell died. His son was unable to rule, and Charles II was restored to the throne. Milton's life was in very real danger now because of the propaganda pamphlets he had written for the Cromwell administration, and he was imprisoned for three months.
In the meantime, his spoiled girls were in need of discipline and attention, so in 1663 amid his daughters' protests, Milton married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull. It was a marriage of convenience. Milton was independently wealthy by this time and could provide a stable home while Elizabeth could care for his girls so that he could have freedom to both tutor students and write without interruption. According to letters at the time, Milton would compose parts of his epic in his mind before he slept, and upon waking, would recite entire passages of blank verse to his aides and secretary. In that manner, all of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (1671) were written. From the time he was a teen until now, he had determined to write an epic and he did. Fifty years in the making, Paradise Lost remains one of the most eloquent and lush features of the English language.
Of True Religion and Poems, &c. upon Several Occasions were published in 1673. In summer 1674, the second edition of Paradise Lost was published in twelve books, two more than the first. Milton died peacefully of gout in November, 1674, and was buried in the church of St. Giles, Cripplegate. His funeral was attended by "his learned and great Friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the Vulgar." A monument to Milton rests in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.
*post originally published December 2016
No, there's no such thing as husband poetry. I mean my husband asked me to teach him more about poetry. My husband felt there were decided holes in his education, but I thought surely somewhere in junior high or high school a dedicated teacher must have taught him some famous verse. He swears he remembers nothing of the sort. Thus, three months ago, my husband picked up a volume of Emily Bronte poetry and determined to understand what he read.
He was already a decided Bronte sisters' admirer, so likability wasn't an issue. What did become an issue was rhyme scheme and syllable structure. So what to do? Consult with your English teacher wife of course. As he read poetry before bed each evening, he began to ask me questions like Why does this line have eight syllables and this one has ten?
I know, I know. Nerd alert. How many married couples talk like this before falling asleep? Anyway, I began by asking him not only to count syllables in every line, but to also determine if there was a pattern. How many lines are in the overall poem, sweetie? Did you say 14? So what type of poem is that? What was Bronte imitating? Pretty soon I realized we needed to start at the beginning. All the intelligent Rush lyrics of his youth bred a natural appreciation for poetry and the lyrical art, but that didn't mean he understood the required skills or genius of the poet's work.
This is what we've learned so far in the poetry journey:
STEP ONE: Read poetry you like, poetry you're drawn to. Each person has their own taste of course. Bronte did that for him as did Frost and Seamus Heaney.
STEP TWO: Break apart the poem skeleton. This is tricky because if you spend too much time identifying parts you can also remove the pleasure of reading for the beauty of the thing. At the same time without the knowledge of parts it's hard to appreciate the whole. Think of the human skeleton. Knowing the parts of the body that frame it and allow it to stand and move increases our appreciation of its overall appearance.
STEP THREE: Find a teaching text that's written at your level. Perhaps the most difficult creature to find, an instructional book is a necessary thing unless you already have an English teacher spouse at your side. From homeschooling curricula to college-level texts, there are too many choices. I've read quite a few that make poetry more difficult and even more that make it too simple. The trick is to find the one that fits you. As an adult learner, my husband didn't want a middle school beginner though he was willing. Instead we went entirely old school. Why not learn from two distinguished Yale professors?
MY TOP RECOMMENDATION
Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. It's no longer in print but is a valuable text if you find one. You can learn so much from reading just two chapters on narrative and descriptive poems. Brooks and Warren include plenty of examples AND include their commentary on how the poem works and what it means. So, so helpful to learn from their wealth of experience. Brooks also has his own poetry textbook titled The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. Though I haven't read it yet, it comes with high reviews.
And as a bonus, read Dwight Longenecker's essay "Why You Need Poetry." He provides much needed motivation for why poetry benefits our minds, ourselves, as a creative outlet.
Romans 1:9-12 (CJB)
For God, whom I serve in my spirit by spreading the Good News about his Son, is my witness that I regularly remember you in my prayers; and I always pray that somehow, now or in the future, I might, by God’s will, succeed in coming to visit you. For I long to see you, so that I might share with you some spiritual gift that can make you stronger — or, to put it another way, so that by my being with you, we might, through the faith we share, encourage one another.
In verse 11, Paul simply says sharing our spiritual gifts make us stronger. In verse 12, Paul says his presence, that is being together and being of the same faith, encourages us.
We share our faith. We share our gifts with each other. We are strengthened. We are encouraged.
When I shared this message in our school chapel, I asked the littles on the first few rows how we encourage one another. One girl said she could offer a compliment, like how she liked my hair. A second grader said we could play together. I then asked how we can encourage someone who is sick or sad. One student said we could wait and then ask them to play when they feel better! It seems that play time is important, or I would add time together is.
In Romans 2, Paul speaks of a circumcised heart. It’s a heart that is actively listening to God, soft and responsive, not hard like Pharoah’s. It’s set apart for God, dedicated wholly to Him. It longs for what He longs for, and it is why I think we are able to encourage one another and respond to one another as He would.
Growing up, I would describe my older sister and myself as bookworms. In the summer, I brought home twenty books a week! Or at least, I think it was twenty. Once I was able to read chapter books, we could share and compare books. We both brought home stacks from our school libraries. Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Narnia, Hardy Boys. I even binged my way through every Louis L’Amour in my junior high school library.
One afternoon I brought home a new Hardy Boys and left it on my bedroom desk for after chores and dinner. But when I returned to grab it, it was gone! I was positive I had left it on the school bus until . . . my sister emerged from her room with it. I reacted immediately in anger, with a flare of injustice I’m sure, and we promptly began a tug of war. In Hebrew react means to answer by hitting back or striking with words. I know I chose sin in that moment, and I am sure I sinned more than once with my mouth and my actions before our mom intervened. My heart was not responsive to God but quite hard.
In Hebrew, the word respond is hinneni or hinnen meaning “here I am.” It shows a yielded heart.
Consider young Samuel as a boy serving Eli the priest in the temple. In I Samuel 3:3-4, The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” Samuel did not act in fear or react in emotion.
In Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush. I’m sure he was stunned in the moment and possibly fearful. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
And after all the consequences Isaiah declared to Israel, he may have been weary and could easily have been embittered, yet he responded in Isaiah 6:8, And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Yes, response is a choice, and yes, we won't always choose well. But I do want to choose what God would choose for me because I trust Him. I trust His love for me. I choose to respond instead of react to people and things because I want to keep a soft heart, one that listens to Him every part of every day.
A man of the theatre . . .
It was a classic when it was first published in 1949, but it remains a classic because it is one-of-a-kind. Marchette Chute’s Shakespeare of London is absolutely the best biography because of her approach.
Chute essentially crafted the story of Shakespeare’s life from a paper trail, from wherever she could find town records, lease arrangements, tax papers, theatre programs, personal letters, and really anything in print. She creates a holistic picture of the time period in Stratford-upon-Avon and in London while effectively showing the complexity of the London stage.
Chute writes about how Shakespeare’s arrival in London was perfectly timed as the theatres themselves were just blossoming: “William Shakespeare brought great gifts to London, but the city was waiting with gifts of its own to offer him. The root of his genius was his own but it was London that supplied him with favoring weather.”
This is no encyclopedic list of chronologies but the real lives of Shakespeare, James Burbage, Edward Alleyn, and others who made up the Chamberlain’s Men. As readers, we learn of Shakespeare’s family, the myriad skills of successful actors, the competitive nature of playwrights and theatre companies, and the dictates and pleasures of theatre-lover Queen Elizabeth and her Master of Revels.
In fact, one of my favorite parts is that Shakespeare apparently was a man of integrity:
. . . he was a relaxed and happy man, almost incapable of taking offense. He did not participate in any of the literary feuds of the period, which . . . were particularly numerous in the Elizabethan age, with its delighted talent for invective.” He worked almost twenty years in London without friction or any major offense because he had a “natural good temper and instinctive courtesy."
Perhaps the greatest praise I could give is that Chute is a delight to read. Yes, the sheer number of dates, names, and details could be overwhelming, yet the reader doesn't feel it. With a fluid narrative, Chute has produced a fascinating wealth of research in a most readable form.
*Younger readers will also enjoy her Introduction to Shakespeare and Stories from Shakespeare.
OBEDIENCE IS A SERIOUS THING. The Book of Judges clearly speaks of an absolute obedience that brings peace and blessing. In Judges 2:1-4 and 6:8-10, God sent both an angel and an unnamed prophet to remind the Israelites that they had not obeyed His voice. What a distinction! Obedience is not just about obeying the laws or rules—it’s about hearing God’s voice.
True, the laws that God gave His people are His voice at this time, along with His messengers, but would the people listen and walk in His way as their fathers had? (2:22). Previously in Deuteronomy, Moses explained that God’s law was no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land (32:47). Think of that. Your very life. But His people were forgetful and many times did not choose to listen, to follow, to obey.
Whenever a judge arose who was aware of God’s covenant and who led the people in hearing and obeying God, the people enjoyed peace in the land for a few years or even forty. Consider Gideon. Although he was timid in personality and quite unsure of himself at first, Gideon was able to obey God. Yes, he was the least of the least, and yes, he questioned God's angel, but once he truly knew God was speaking to him, he obeyed. What mercy. God allowed Gideon to question. God gave him time. God even allowed Gideon to test Him twice, and most amazingly, God equipped Gideon to bring deliverance to His people, for the Spirit of the Lord clothed and covered him (6:32). It's almost as if once he knew he was chosen, once he knew without doubt that God was with him, then Gideon was able to choose obedience with ease.
But Gideon wasn't the only one. Once God's angel appeared, Manoah and his barren wife obeyed God, followed the Nazirite vows, and were blessed with the birth of Samson and his siblings (16:31). Here, Samson was raised with a purpose--to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines (13:5).
Yet Samson was far from obedient. He lied, murdered, retaliated, wreaked vengeance, manipulated, and contaminated, yet God was with him. Mercy again. He was destined from before conception to save Israel (13:5), and God used him as a tangible show of strength and power to weaken the Philistines and strengthen the Israelites. But Samson may not have fulfilled the breadth of God’s plan because of his poor choices (eating from a carcass and making himself and his parents ceremonially unclean, entanglements with three Philistine women, et al). These choices and others impacted his effectiveness—twenty years of peace versus forty or more (16:31).
Most of all, I wonder if this mutt mix of obedience, forgetfulness, and sin symbolized his own people. Like them, He did not know that the Lord had left him (16:20) until too late. What could he have done, how could God have used him if Samson had wholly obeyed by hearing God's voice for himself?
originally published November 2016